Hospitality and the culinary arts have always gone hand in hand. In London, Ontario, we have a history of exceptional restaurateurs, chefs and culinary retailers. Among the latter are Ann McColl Lindsay and David Lindsay, the former proprietors of the legendary Ann McColl’s Kitchen Shop, one of Canada’s finest cookware shops.
Ann and David met, married and taught school in Windsor, Ontario from 1961 to 1968. They resigned their positions, sold their red brick bungalow, and embarked on a year-long food pilgrimage across Europe while camping in a Volkswagen van. Travelling in the van with a gas burner allowed them to truly enjoy the local terroir.
The first six months of their trip, which ended at the French border, is described in Ann’s memoir Hungry Hearts — A Food Odyssey across Britain and Spain. The second volume, Hearts Forever Young, includes their travels in France, Italy, Austria, Switzerland, Germany, Belgium, the Netherlands and Denmark.
This formative trip introduced the Lindsays to small independent grocers, hardware stores, street markets and antique stores jammed with domestic serving pieces. It was during this time that they started to collect the one-of-a-kind utensils that would comprise a useful and saleable batterie de cuisine. Of a foray to British food writer Elizabeth David’s Kitchen Shop, Ann says, “This innocent morning’s shopping expedition turned into a lifetime obsession”.
Upon their return to Canada, they opened Ann McColl’s Kitchen Shop and Victoriana in rented premises on Dundas Street where they lived above the shop. They specialized in culinary utensils, antiquarian books, furniture, and Victorian paraphernalia.
I should point out here that it was about this time that the Lindsays befriended restaurateurs Ginette Bisallion and Robin Askew, who opened the seven-table L’Auberge du Petit Prince ((named after Antoine de Saint-Exupery’s Little Prince, who, if you remember, cooked over volcanic jets on a far planet). L’Auberge was later purchased by chef Chris Squire in 1976. Squire would operate the landmark business for 21 years. These steadfast relationships cemented their connection to the local restaurant scene.
After several years on Dundas Street, the Lindsays moved to new premises with beautiful storefront windows, on Richmond at Hyman Street. It was one of just three small owner-operated specialty shops on Richmond Row at the time. Ann started to write cookbooks. David, a talented artist and photographer, illustrated them.
In 1977 Ann authored The Cookshop Cookbook, which instructed readers in the use and care of kitchen utensils and equipment. “We had always been traditionalists in the matter of kitchen equipment, shunning all electrical contrivances and putting our faith in good knives, sieves, mortar and pestles. The autumn of 1975 saw a change in all that. The Cuisinart Food Processor arrived in Canada and automatically half the stock in our store became obsolete,” wrote Ann. The business prospered anyway and they outgrew that location.
In the 1980’s they relocated the shop to 350 Talbot Street. Built in 1890, the building was originally erected as a showroom and repair shop for Massey-Harris Co. To this day, the landmark building provides a strong reminder of the late nineteenth century commercial activity in downtown London. The new store was one of the most professionally stocked and artistically merchandised cookware shops anywhere. It had everything you needed to be a successful cook, except the food. The shop offered bakeware, pots and pans, woks, scales, utensils, gadgets, drain boards, glassware, bowls, and many specialty utensils. There was even a step-down kitchen in the renovated tractor repair shed with an AGA stove for cooking classes and demonstrations.
Already outspoken heritage activists, having had four of their buildings designated, they campaigned for the preservation of the streetscape on the Talbot Block which culminated in a “Hands Around the Block” demonstration. Ann’s commentaries on culinary matters, urban issues and heritage preservation have appeared in countless newspaper articles, magazines and letters to the editor over the years.
In 1994, the Lindsays published Ann McColl’s 25 Greatest Hits, which showcased 25 of the store’s greatest products beautifully illustrated by David. Eventually, they would sell this building and move the business to King Street, across from the Covent Garden Market.
The Lindsay’s announcement in 2002 that they were retiring and closing down their store on King Street presented the opportunity for Jill Wilcox to expand Jill’s Table into that location. The space was four times larger than Jill’s original market space. Jill’s Table was able to fill part of the vacuum that Ann McColl’s was leaving in the community.
During the 33 years they ran their kitchenware business the Lindsays were also avid gardeners at their home in Woodfield, and in community gardens. A few years ago, Ann was instrumental in recreating the original Victorian herb garden at Eldon House. To this day the Lindsays are fondly remembered as the benchmark example of how to blend culture and commerce. They continue to be intrepid market enthusiasts, artists, heritage preservationists and community boosters.
Bryan Lavery has always been an admirer of the literature of food writer Elizabeth David. He also recalls the Lindsays being among his first customers at his small antiques shop on Richmond Row many years ago.